Lily bulb, hawthorn berry, and coix seeds are more likely relegated to a Chinatown herbal shop than a Bushwick restaurant menu (in a spot that also happens to be a nightclub), but by March 19, Traditional Chinese Medicine will get the centerstage at the Red Pavilion.
The new restaurant with a focus on TCM ingredients will open at 1241 Flushing Avenue, at Ingraham Street, in Bushwick, Brooklyn; a Chinese teahouse by day and a club at night, Red Pavilion serves TCM-infused dishes and drinks like lotus leaf-wrapped sticky rice, chicken bone broth, and sesame cocktails against a lush red Wong Kar-Wai-inspired backdrop.
In recent years, elements of TCM have crossed into ubiquity with the proliferation of acupuncture and tai chi, as well as foods like bone broths, kombucha and mushroom drinks. In 2021, restaurants such as Zou’s opened in Flushing with an emphasis on food’s healing properties, but Red Pavilion is the niche player serving TCM with an aerial cabaret show.
The restaurant (which has been open to the public in stages since last month) is the work of co-founders, Shanghai-born TCM chef and registered dietician, Zoey Xinyi Gong, and Taipei-born nightlife producer, Shien Lee. In 2019, Gong modeled for Shien’s Dances of Vice fantasy costume party, and Lee attended Gong’s TCM pop-up dinner. Both entrepreneurs wanted to build a physical space for their AAPI community, and they hit it off.
Throughout the pandemic, Gong got bombarded with questions on how to use TCM herbs for coughing, sinus congestion, and post-vaccine menstrual changes, and in 2021, Lee suffered a bloody attack at the Fulton Street subway platform amid an ongoing spate of Asian-targeted violence. For both their highs and lows, the duo resolved to make this community space happen. They did a gut renovation on a 2,500-square-foot glass factory in Bushwick, and revamped how TCM is mainly presented in NYC.
“When you think of TCM, you think of your grandma making herbal broths, but here we have a super hot chef who’s making delicious food,” says Lee. “I think now, we can inspire a new generation of people who think TCM is really cool.” She’s referring to both younger Chinese Americans, who may be interested in exploring their childhood foods, as well as New Yorkers at large.
Gong serves TCM-infused dishes in the teahouse with dishes like congee, with purple rice, red lentil, adzuki bean, coix seeds, Chinese millet, black rice, oats, and white rice. She cooks them in a broth of six kinds of mushrooms and seaweed to a creamy consistency. The congee is then served in a lacquered bento box set alongside fermented tofu, pickles, and fresh cilantro.
Gong says she plans to push the dim sum cart herself – with the standard fill-out order form – and she’s open to answering any questions from diners: She expects many. Staff, too, have undergone a TCM training program led by Gong just for this purpose.
From the teas to the alcoholic or booze-free cocktails, the beverages are also hit with the TCM treatment. The liver detox tea is a concoction of eight components including the root of the kudzu vine. The bar, helmed by Orson Salicetti, formerly of House of Yes, offers herbal shots with vodka, baijiu, and a blend of 20 herbs. (While this may be the first bar she owns, Gong also consulted on the cocktail menu at Chino Grande in Williamsburg, which opened in the spring of last year, where drinks also infuse TCM).
Red Pavilion’s teahouse is open between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. from Thursday to Monday, except Sunday. The Sunday dim sum service runs from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. The bar’s hours are tied to events, which typically start at 8 p.m.
Caroline Shin is a Queens-raised food journalist and founder of the Cooking with Granny YouTube and workshop series spotlighting immigrant grandmothers. Follow her on Instagram @CookingWGranny.